Prior to 2011

Can Cancer-Killing Viruses Lead to Better Cancer Therapies?

Destin Heilman, visiting assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry at WPI, will deliver two talks at the Boston Museum of Science on Wednesday, Aug. 15, on an unusual group of viruses that have the ability to seek and destroy cancer cells. He will also appear on the New England Cable News and will record a podcast for the museum Web site.

WPI professor Destin Heilman will answer that question and review his research on viruses that seek and destroy cancer at the Boston Museum of Science on Aug. 15

WORCESTER, Mass. – Destin Heilman, visiting assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry at WPI, will deliver two talks at the Boston Museum of Science on Wednesday, Aug. 15, on an unusual group of viruses that have the ability to seek and destroy cancer cells. The talks will take place on the museum's Current Science and Technology stage at 12:30 and 2:30 p.m.

Heilman will also appear on the New England Cable News at 5:30 p.m. that day in a live interview broadcast from the museum and will record a podcast for the museum Web site.

"Studies of the pathology of viruses have shown that some can cause cancer," Heilman says. "For example, certain human papillomaviruses (HPV) have been shown to cause cervical cancer. However, even more surprising has been the discovery of a select group of unrelated viruses that have the ability to seek and destroy cancer cells."

Heilman says scientists are studying why these viruses evolved to selectively target cancer cells (called oncotropism) and how they are able to trigger cell death. This knowledge will prove valuable since cancer cell selection and targeted cell death are both critical features of a good chemotherapeutic agent.

In addition to studying cancer-killing viruses, Heilman and his research team are looking at a single protein produced by one of the viruses that appears to be closely associated with the cancer killing ability. "Research is underway in our group to understand how a few such proteins can have dramatically specific and potentially therapeutic effects," he says. "Through genetic engineering, it may be possible to use these proteins for cancer therapies."

In addition, he notes, a better understanding of how the proteins work inside a cancer cell may lead to more effective chemotherapeutic drugs. "It may be the case," he says, "that the best cancer therapy has already been developed and perfected in nature."

August 14, 2007

 
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